The General Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved by Jonathan Fenby is a 2012 biography of de Gaulle It was entertaining, in depth, well researched, and flashed a not always kind light on The General Now whether one thinks highly or poorly of de Gaulle is another matter Reading this biography portrays many of the stereotypes associated with de Gaulle He was pompous, larger than life, heroic, aristocratic, aloof, controlling, messianic, and autocratic Yet no one can claim he didn t put France first In some ways France has long had an inferiority complex, especially during and after World War II when it lost its moral authority and was marginalized for giving up Paris without a fight and for the resulting Vichy government In the end France wasn t included in much of the fighting in or liberation of Europe If the big three were Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill de Gaulle would be lucky to rank as a distant fourth This rankled de Gaulle and colored most everything he did from 1940 on De Gaulle had a constant suspicion of the United States and Great Britain, and much of what he did politically can be evaluated through that lens While de Gaulle strived for a strong independent France hopefully brokering the distance between the competing interests of the East and the West it was shaping up as a world passing it by The first 120 or so pages take the reader through de Gaulle s early life and the first world war The next 510 pages cover the last 30 years through his death in 1970 I thought the book hit its stride in this second section The details of his political movements his thoughts and positioning to return to power are fleshed out wonderfully One can almost feel how his vision of France slowly departed from reality as time marched on De Gaulle was not one to change with the times, and as such became a bit of an anachronism in his later years His efforts to shore up France s colonies is laid out very nicely, especially the problems in Algiers Dien Bien Phu wasn t on his watch, but Algiers was If you are looking for details on this period in world history, this is good reading. This is a perfectly adequate and workman like biography of De Gaulle While comprehensive, I never really got a good sense of either him or the France he saved Why exactly is he to be regarded as a Great Man, again While he had some considerable political skill and luck, it was never really made clear the real impact of his presidency or how his leadership saved or shaped his country in any meaningful way The author did describe various initiatives to enhance France s role as a major player on the world stage, independent of the U.S., but these seemed to only to illustrate just how little real influence France had, other than to irritate Western allies particularly America.While not a particularly engaging read, I would suggest it for anyone requiring a biography for college or perhaps high school research. This book seems to be the closest thing to a good biography of DeGaulle that exists in English, but that s really not saying much I believe the definitive biography of De Gaulle in English has not been written, because the translation of Jean Lacouture s French language version has many flaws, chief among them that Lacouture was writing for a French audience, so he assumed on the part of his readers a lot of knowledge of French politics and recent events A reasonable assumption for educated Francaises et Francais, but not for Americans Fenby s book, on the other hand is far too facile and lacks depth DeGaulle was a fascinating and polarizing figure, but for all his faults it is not an exaggeration to say he saved France My father lived in France when DeGaulle was president, and he understood and spoke a little French, so he would listen to DeGaulle s addresses to the nation, and my dad had a finely tuned appreciation for obscure humor, so he enjoyed DeGaulle s speeches Sadly, DeGaulle has been demonized in America, simply for insisting on France being a truly sovereign nation, but he accomplished so much he set France on the path to energy independence, he dealt with decolonialization fairly and with respect for both the countries that left and the colonies that chose to stay with France despite the Algerian quagmire , he re wrote the constitution and gave France, finally, stable government And much DeGaulle saw far, and so clearly He knew that France needed to match Germany s build up of tank divisions and fighter aircraft in the late 30 s, but the government did not listen He saw that France could maintain her honor and stay fully in the war in 1940 by evacuating the French Army and Air Force to Algeria using France s formidable Navy, but the government did not listen And he saw and spoke of in the Appel of Juin 1940, that it was a matter of time before the Nazis would be defeated by the industrial might of the United States He gave hope to occupied France when many, including Roosevelt, had written her off He was great in ways we do not see in world leaders today He is a man much misunderstood in the U.S., and he deserves a fairer evaluation I wish this biography offered that in a full throated and eloquent way. What a man, what a book Perhaps lexicon or Some list of his recurring ministers would be handy Excellent biography of a man who loved France I was reminded of the tumultuous politics of France in the 1960s and 1970s. The best biographers develop a deep empathy for their subjects that allow the writer to judiciously illuminate the best and worst of their characters The result is a work that allows us to understand deeply what animates a person s ideas and motivates their actions Fenby does not manage to accomplish this in his somewhat mean portrayal of Charles DeGaulle In Fenby s defense, DeGaulle is not a very sympathetic character He conflates France s glory with his own On the other hand, he is arguably the most important political figure in modern French history. Quel homme De Gaulle Auschwitz Quelle tristesse, quel d go t et malgr tout quelle esp rance humaine Amazing Books, The General By Jonathan Fenby This Is Very Good And Becomes The Main Topic To Read, The Readers Are Very Takjup And Always Take Inspiration From The Contents Of The Book The General , Essay By Jonathan Fenby Is Now On Our Website And You Can Download It By Register What Are You Waiting For Please Read And Make A Refission For You Charles De Gaulle 1890 1970 was a French army officer, resistance leader, politician, and even statesman Born into a conservative Catholic family which was politically estranged from the secular Third Republic, De Gaulle had a Catholic education before entering the military academy He was wounded than once, I think , during the First World War and captured by the Germans, making several unsuccessful attempts to escape from prisoner of war camps He married in the 1920s, and had 3 children his most touching relationship was with a daughter who suffered from Down s syndrome, to whom De Gaulle showed a tenderness rarely in evidence in other relationships During the 1930s he became an advocate of ard warfare, and commanded a tank unit in the 1940 campaign in France He was promoted a junior ministerial post in the French government by Paul Reynaud, and left France for Britain during the collapse of France In Britain he created the Free French resistance organization As the collaborationist government of Marshal Petain, a former patron of De Gaulle, had signed an armistice with Germany, De Gaulle s creation of the Free French made him a traitor in the eyes of the recognized French government.De Gaulle had a rocky relationship with Winston Churchill and especially with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the war years He managed to obtain a good deal of influence over the various other resistance movements in France and became head of government towards the end of the war Unhappy with the constitutional arrangements that created the Fourth Republic, because it so closely resembled the Third Republic, he quit in 1946 His attempts to regain influence through the creation of new political parties was unsuccessful.In 1958 he had his second chance The Fourth Republic, or at least the politicians available to it, could not cope with the war in Algeria Algeria had been a French possession since about 1830 and although the majority of its population was Muslim, there was a substantial about a million people I think European population A guerrilla and terrorist movement had sprung up among the native population, to which the French army reacted with a good deal of brutality, including torture Although the FLN, the independence movement, wasn t exactly winning, the French army couldn t knock them out either After the defeat in Vietnam, many senior French army officers were in no mood to retreat.De Gaulle took power from a feckless government in 1958 His takeover had an undercurrent of violence, as the army would have put him in power by a coup if necesssary De Gaulle pushed for and got a new constitution, creating the Fifth Republic, which created a very powerful executive in the president of the republic De Gaulle became that president Ironically, if the army had actually known De Gaulle s views on Algeria they might not have supported him He had long had doubts about success in the war, because the native population outnumbered the European population by about nine to one He hoped that continued military action would improve his negotiating position, but that did not happen He negotiated a deal and France basically left Algeria in 1962, with the new Algerian government predictably betraying its promises for decent treatment for any Europeans who stayed or for those Muslims who had fought on the French side The European population ended up moving to France De Gaulle s perceived betrayal of the European population sparked an underground movement, the OAS, that repeated tried to assissinate him and which engaged in massacres and terrorist activties against the Muslim Algerian population before the French left Algeria.De Gaulle placed much emphasis on maintaining the freedom of action of the French government in international affairs He removed French forces from the NATO command, while not exactly leaving NATO, and pushed the development of nuclear weapons, a development that began before his return to power in 1958 While remaining in the European Economic Community, the prescuror to the European Union, he pushed to have decisions made by heads of state rather than the bureaucracy in Brussels Several of De Gaulle s policies in his later years as president strike as predictably ineffectual or ill advised His hope that he could somehow coax the Soviet Union into a peaceable, united relationship with western Europe,seems doomed to failure, especially as he mainaintined a hard line on East Germany and status of Berlin His hope to replace the dollar with gold as a international currency reserve also seems much too optimistic.De Gaulle left power due to the unrest of the spring of 1968, during which there was a combination of student unrest and militancy on the part of the Communist dominated trade union movement His prime minister managed to split the opposition, buying off the trade unionists, who mostly didn t see the students as natural allies However, De Gaulle had insisted on another referendum to modify the constitution after the unrest When this failed, he took it has a vote of no confidence and resigned.I enjoyed the book, but think that a list of important characters, with short biographies, would be helpful to those of us less versed in French history. So much to say about this book I ve given it a few days and I m not sure that I feel like I will do a good job speaking about the subject of De Gaulle Truly, one of the interesting figures in the twentieth century One could, and I m sure many have run out of adjectives to describe him Patriotic, Nationalistic, Religious, Demagogic, Narcissistic, Stubborn, Honorable, Moralistic What becomes clear in looking at this is that not all of these adjectives go together This, in a nutshell, provides a glimpse of the problem of Charles De Gaulle The author Jonathan Fenby does a very good job in his work here I am sure there are countless biographies of him, including one that has just been released and blurbed in the last month, but I think this certainly gives anyone interested a good initial look at , as he liked to be called, The General De Gaulle is correctly known to people outside France as, first and foremost, the leader of the Free French during World War Two But even that epitomization is not as simple when one looks into the history of it In short, De Gaulle was a pain in the ass He would have been a superb poker player as he would bluff and or act like he had all the cards when, in most cases, he had none His constant refrain in life was to gain respect for France To have France at the seat of the World Powers after the war What was most interesting with him, however, was that even during World War Two, after France had capitulated, he still insisted at every turn that the French, the free forces, in the shape of he himself, be consulted and included in all decisions Churchill, however, ever mindful of how dependent on the United States England was, deferred when he needed to to FDR a d the Americans FDR had little to no use for De Gaulle and his antics Churchill who hosted him veered from admiration to exasperation but with De Gaulle one never was far from a blowup of some sort His ego, his self perception of him and his country, his savior complex , was just too large to allow for any permanent congenial relations After the war it was this European dependence on the United States that he consistently fought against As Russia and the United States turned Europe into a dual of their superiority he wished to make France the third party, but as an equal, to become one of a tripartite power in Europe In this he never succeeded De Gaulle is interesting in how he insisted on staying inside the lines of being democratically elected but, once he did so, he had no use for the constraints put on a Democratic leader From 1958 until he left the government, well over ten years, he acted as an almost supreme leader in his country He held all the cards That said, in any situation where he might lose power, or majorities, he always threatened to leave the government if the voters did not totally endorse him And, in fairness to him, once he lost the referendum he asked for to keep his powers , he immediately stepped down He was and always will be an enigma I have over a hundred highlights in this book so I am going to review them in real time and comment where I think it makes sense to At the beginning of World War Two France had, at least, a thirty percent superiority in both tanks and airplanes Historians still, and will always argue about this, but I tend to agree that the French people, the soldiers, even the Generals just had a defeatist attitude The suffering of World War One was not forgotten, the government was consistently, brutally, unstable in the thirties while Germany was under a complete militaristic rearmament The agreement by Reynaud to a separate peace with the Germans has been, and could be blamed on the misinterpretation of the phrase understood in a conversation with Churchill At the end of World War I De Gaulle recognized The Treaty of Versailles as a failed document He called the German signature a joke and expected them to grow bitter and militaristic while the French would suffer from demobilization In this he was completely accurate The demographics of World War One were devastating Of the 7.5 million, 60 percent of the total population of men before 190, 1.5 million died Half of the six million survivors were wounded, shell shocked, amputees, or otherwise affected Population growth stalled Without the two million citizens added with the gain of Alsace Lorraine and the 1.5 million immigrants since 1914 the population in the thirties would have been even precipitously lower Deaths outnumber births, ten percent of the people have syphilis, a quarter of the population is over sixty, and perhaps the best illustration of unpreparedness of the government is France had forty two different formed governments between the wars Forty two, how COULD they have been prepared When one wants to lose all patience with him they should consider his relationship with his daughter Anne Heavily afflicted with Down Syndrome both he and his wife insisted in her total integration into the family and Charles loved and doted on her like no one else His love was endless for her until she passed away When she died in 1948, he when leaving the funeral, touched his wife s arm and said She s like others now De Gaulle in the thirties advocated heavily for the building up, improvement, and utilization of tanks as a separate offensive force It was not appreciated Interestingly in 1945 a copy of his 1936 book about tank warfare was found in German headquarters annotated approvingly by Hitler After the popular front government took power in 1936 led by the Communist Blum there was a wide array of Conservative thought in France that believed better Fascist than Communist When one considers the America First movement of the same time and the English and American attitude toward Franco in the Spanish Civil War this is not surprising To the Generals credit he never supported the fascists or their tendencies to want to take by force what they lost in popular elections After the capitulation much of French business embraced the Vichy government expecting to have any vestiges of the limitations placed on them by the popular front government and high profit making return We, as Americans, should not think ourselves too much above this, anyone who thinks our businesses would not embrace profit over politics is not really paying attention What s interesting is once America entered the war everyone, including Churchill, De Gaulle, and FDR assumed the end result of the war was known, it was just a matter of when De Gaulle was quite prescient when America was bombed and entered, that England as well as France would be less important and that after the war it would all be about the USSR Nd the USChurchill was amazed at De Gaulle s stubbornness Churchill wrote after one long verbal battle His country has given up fighting, he himself is a refugee, and if we turn him down he s finished But look at him Look at him He might be Stalin, with 200 division is behind his words, perhaps the last survivor of a warrior race The loss of Algeria is well known, it was a terrible revolution De Gaulle was resigned that French Africa would leave, though he felt it as a huge diminishment of his countries prestige Besides Algeria a great deal of Eastern Africa had been French In the early sixties they lost it all An interesting anecdote told is of the failed Paris conference between Khrushchev and De Gaulle This was after the u2 incident and Khrushchev was livid De Gaulle was at his best After the Chairman has ranted and yelled for forty five minutes De Gaulle said we can all hear Khrushchev there is no reason for him to raise his voice Quotation mark When the Soviet interpreter went pale and stumbled over his words, De Gaulle told his own interpreter to do the job Kruschev stopped, cast an angry look at the Frenchman over the top of his spectacles and continued in a quieter tone Later De Gaulle said that he too had been spied on from the sky Kruschev asked, by your American Allies and the general replied no, by you After further posturing Eisenhower was impressed, later in his car, to an aide, he said, that De Gaulle, he is someone Near the end of his reign De Gaulle suffered from a belief in his oneness with the state State television was heavily censored, French forces were pulled from NATO command, made several statements that were, or could be considered AntoSemetic, and then with the student and worker protest of 1968 the end was near To give De Gaulle credit, he did not take extraordinary measures to stay in power, once the people clearly rejected his desires he left willingly If sadly My conclusion is odd Over a d over as I read this book and watched his behaviors and temperament and tendencies to autocratic behavior I was reminded of Trump The bluster, The I ll take my ball and go home, the knee jerk defense of the military and any rule by force as well as the almost automatic rejection of the presumed status quo with noted allies Of course this falls apart as soon as one examines De Gaulle in full He was intelligent, he had fierce ethics, he had morals He was, in actuality, the opposite of Trump in his appetites and loyalty to the state above people Still the behaviors of similarity do pop up De Gaulle provided a stability that France needed and allowed them the window to become one of the leaders of Europe After World War 2, in his twelve years out of power the country again ran through governments in an extreme fashion It seemed they were ungovernable The General did change that His importance to France in the twentieth century cannot be underestimated He was everything.
Jonathan Fenby, CBE, has been the editor of The Observer and the South China Morning Post He is currently China Director at the research service Trusted Sources.
- 707 pages
- The General
- Jonathan Fenby
- 07 February 2019 Jonathan Fenby